How a Water Softener Works

What Is Hard Water?

Hard water is water formed when water percolates through and has absorbed high quantities of calcium and magnesium minerals from the earth. However, water is said to be soft if it is free of these minerals. Water in its natural state is soft. That is, water obtained from rivers and streams is often naturally soft. Therefore, soft water does not lead to the accumulation of limescale in your appliances which will eventually reduce their effectiveness and lifespan. Plus it won’t damage all the pipes in your house. It is the perfect water for you to use to drink and for your appliances.

Furthermore, hard water reduces the ability of soap to lather, and the hardness-causing minerals can combine with the soap to form a sticky scum that clings. This sticky scum is often hard to rinse out of hair or clothes. It is worthy to note that hard water coming into your home can be treated. One of the most effective means of treating hard water is by using an in-house water treatment appliance known as the water softener. This machine helps to treat hard water by removing calcium and magnesium from the water.

Problems Caused By Excessively Hard Water

  • Clog pipes
  • Damage to internal appliances
    • washing machine
    • boiler, dishwasher
    • water heaters
    • radiators
  • Leave chalky white residue on shower, tiles, and kettles
  • Dries out skin and hair

Although drinking hard water may have few health benefits. It can be very problematic. As a result, water hardness is closely monitored in industrial settings to avoid costly breakdowns in cooling towers, piping networks, boilers, and other equipment that handles water. Also, in domestic settings, hard water is often indicated by the formation of limescale in kettles, water heaters, showers, and when the soap doesn’t lather in water.

Now, it is clear that the effects of hard water could be annoying and look bad. But you should also consider the harmful effect hard water has on plumbing systems, fixtures, and appliances, you would know it is worth treating. Hard water deposits can restrict the water flow in a home, putting huge pressure on the whole plumbing system, which may lead to the bursting of pipelines. That said, it is advisable that you use water softeners to remove hardness from water and get rid of its adverse effects.

Types Of Water Softeners

A typical water-softening device gets rid of magnesium and calcium ions from hard water and introduces sodium ions instead. This is because magnesium and calcium ions react chemically with detergents and household soaps, but sodium does not. Thus, the water-softening process helps detergents to be more effective in removing dirt and oils from dishes and clothes. There are a few different types of water softeners. They are as listed below:

Ion Exchange:

This is the most traditional water softener that a lot of people are used to. It works by removing magnesium and calcium ions and replacing them with sodium ions. This is because sodium ions have none of the damaging effects of magnesium and calcium.

Salt-Free:

The salt-free softener uses a mechanical filter to remove calcium. Although it is not the ideal softener for treating extremely hard water. This is mainly because it does not remove magnesium, but it removes calcium.

Reverse Osmosis:

This water softener filters water through a semipermeable membrane that gets rid of up to 98% of impurities. This device is highly efficient at removing other chemical impurities, including magnesium and calcium. Although it is an expensive appliance, and it uses a considerable amount of water to function effectively.

The reverse osmosis method is a unique method that helps to treat any type of water hardness. It’s just that it can have negative effects when used to treat drinking water. The human body needs minerals from drinking water, among other sources. However, long-term use of reverse osmosis can have unforeseen consequences and deprive the human body of vital minerals.

Pros And Cons Of Water Softener

A well-designed water softener removes the calcium and magnesium ions that can cause water hardness. By removing the metals, the remaining water is acceptable and brought to a more useful range.

Pros

  • Extends the life of appliances. Washing machine, water heater, dishwasher
  • Appliance functioning efficiently so need less electricity
  • Softened water is doesn’t dry out your skin and hair
  • Less soap and detergents needed
  • Reduced scaling, spotting, and staining
  • It makes glassware cleaner
  • It prevents limescale from building up on your water system

Cons

  • Requires salt to be added to the machine
  • Need basic technical knowledge to install and setup
  • It does not remove lead, arsenic, and other metals.

How An Ion-Exchange Water Softener Works

A water softener works by completely eliminating the magnesium and calcium ions present in the hard water supply through the ion exchange process. This process turns it from hard water to softened water.  When the hard water enters the mineral tank, it will flow through several layers of negatively charged spherical resin beads. Since they carry a negative charge, it means they are anions. Magnesium and calcium, on the other hand, carry a positive charge meaning that they are cations. From the law of attraction, unlike charges attract, as charges repel. Thus, the positive charge of the resin beads is attracted to the negative charge of the minerals.

Thus, as the hard water passes through the resin, the beads attract the mineral ions and separate them from the water. And sodium ion is released when the bead attracted the hardness-causing minerals. The layers of resin then remove all the water hardness as it leaves the mineral tank. Hence, soft water starts flowing into your home.

The Regeneration Process

The regeneration process uses sodium to separate the accumulated minerals from the resin. This is because sodium has a positive charge that is strong enough to repel that of calcium and magnesium but can’t cling to the resin itself. That is, in a bid to clean the beads in the mineral tank, the water softener goes through the regeneration process. This process consists of three cycles which are backwash, recharge, and rinse. It is usually initiated every few days and mostly in the middle of the night.

1. Backwash

This is the first cycle of regeneration. The valve reverses the water flow and eliminates and flushes the tank of debris. This debris is then completely eliminated through the drain that is connected to the septic system or municipal sewer system.

2. Recharge

In this cycle, the mineral-rich solution is pumped into the mineral tank from the brine tank. The highly concentrated salt solution removes the magnesium and calcium from the beads, and the salty mineral-rich water is then flushed out of the tank and down to the drain.

3. Rinse

In this cycle, the mineral tank is then filled and rinsed with water. The regeneration process will stop, and the water softening process starts over again. And the beads will now be coated with sodium or potassium from the brine tank.

Hence, as additional hard water enters the mineral tank, the positively charged calcium and magnesium in the water will be attracted to the beads to replace the sodium on the beads. The little amount of salt displaced from the beads will then become suspended in the water and move into the home water supply.

So, when the beads become saturated with hard-water calcium and magnesium again, the control valve will commence a new regeneration cycle and flush the hard-water minerals down the drain one more time. This ongoing cycle continues as long as the brine tank is stocked with salt.

Wrapping Up

If you are experiencing decreased pressure as a result of scale-ridden pipes, stiff laundry, dry skin and hair, and huge appliance repair bills, this is a clear sign that you need a water softener. The effects of elevated mineral levels in water could range from annoying to highly destructive. Meanwhile, hard water is not a problem that will go away on its own. In fact, the costs incurred by hard water will only continue to escalate if proper care is not taken.

Hard water causes appliances to fail sooner than their expected lifespan. Also, as scale continues to accumulate in your pipes, your flow rate will continue to restrict, and you risk losing water pressure throughout the house. If you are experiencing water hardness, the perpetual cycle of repairs and replacements will continue until you safeguard your house with a water softener.  

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